Auburn defense showed it's capable of being truly special against Oregon
During the postgame press conference, Auburn defensive end Big Kat Bryant was asked how the Tigers were able to shut down an Oregon offense that had looked so good in the first half. Bryant, who had recorded 2 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks and returned a fumble 83 yards, had a simple answer.
“We kind of just shut it down and played Auburn football. That’s what it all came down to.”
Yes, the defense that looked iffy and prone to the Ducks’ attack in the first half finally became the unit that everyone expected them to be, and one of the keys was the linemen up front. After allowing 77 rushing yards in the first half, Bryant, Derrick Brown and company went to work. Mario Cristobal’s team found life unpleasant and the Tigers started pushing around the talented Pac-12 offensive line. Only 13 yards were relented on the ground in the final 30 minutes, and when Auburn needed stops on big short-yard situations, they were ready. When the Ducks tried to run the ball in these moments, they had no shot, including on a crucial 4th-and-1 on the Tigers’ 41 with 5:34 left in the game.
This put all the pressure on Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. The likely 1st-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft thrived on the short screen passes at the beginning of the game as he got the ball out to his speedy wide receivers with room to run. Had it not been for Bo Nix’s game-winning touchdown to Seth Williams, the most memorable moment of the game would have belong to Herbert. In the 1st quarter as he was getting hit, the senior threw across the field to find 6-6 tight end Spencer Webb in the end zone to put the Ducks up 14-3.
It was his only touchdown pass.
Auburn started to get pressure on Herbert in the second half and, possibly important, seemed to rattle him. His longest completion after halftime was just 20 yards and, while he did complete 18-of-21 passes, the average gain was 6.67 yards. The secondary, led by Jeremiah Dinson (13 total tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack), made sure tackles and the young linebacker corp, including true freshman Owen Pappoe (5 total tackles), became a solid wall at the second level.
You can only tell so much from Week 1. Jitters are going to affect play, especially in the first quarter or so, and miscommunication and missed assignments are bound to occur. The Tigers had their ugly moments — blown coverage led to Johnny Johnson III being wide open for a 47-yard gain on the Ducks’ opening drive — but how they responded was impressive.
This defense, with all of the hype about the front four and veteran secondary coming into the season, stepped up and dominated when they needed to the most, ultimately holding one of the most explosive offenses in the nation to 332 total yards.
If this is a preview of what is to come for Kevin Steele’s group, we might see something special.